Elite athletes have to draw the line somewhere and Osaka’s bravely drawn hers


Imagine a moment when all eyes turn to you, the world hushes in anticipation and awaits your intervention. Silence falls. The next move is yours.

Yours to be taken. Yours to be lost. Yours to be judged on. The closest most people get to such a moment is saying “I do” in a ceremony, performing in the school musical, or taking a penalty in the Div 3 grand final.

What if the professional sportsperson wins the prize but loses their mental health?Credit:Getty Images

Amplify that pressure by millions of live viewers, several big-name sponsors, and a sea of lightly informed but very judgmental keyboard warriors.

Imagine being 23, with your performances ruthlessly scrutinised by a hard-bitten press corp, then having to improvise your own answers in real time, because everyone wants to see you live, vulnerable, and “authentic”.

Imagine training obsessively for those big-match moments. What you eat, how much you eat, what you drink, when you sleep, and how you recover. Eating chicken with no skin, ever. Taking ice baths after every game. Scheduling every single day to eat right, train right, rest right, repeat.

And every time you walk out there, someone is trying to knock you off.

What kind of job demands this? Naomi Osaka’s job: professional sportsperson.

Chief executives, by comparison, have whole departments of spin doctors to draft their key messages, select the best media opps, and background brief. Even politicians who survive the NSW “bear pit” can have secret lives.

Athletes, if they make it to the top of their sport, must negotiate all this at a relatively young age, and, in Osaka’s case, as a half-Asian woman of colour who chooses to speak out about racism.

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Pole sports athletes coming to Cairns for national competition in June


When athletes from across Australia and New Zealand next month converge on Cairns for the Australian Pole Sports Federation’s (APSF) second annual national competition, they will be competing in a newly recognised sport with Olympic aspirations.

But do not call them pole dancers.

Athletes are quick to point out the difference between pole sports and pole dancing, with pole sports requiring the same amount of athleticism as gymnastics.

In December 2020, the Global Association of International Sports Federation officially recognised pole dancing as a sport and was also reviewing it to become an Olympic sport in 2024.

Regardless of these announcements some people still regard pole dancing as a sport with a stigma.

Mikki Rhoades is the president of the APSF and said the upcoming national competition was an opportunity for Australian pole athletes to qualify for the world championships in Switzerland in October.

“They are being held in Cairns because the APSF was founded in Cairns by local passionate athletes,” Ms Rhoades said.

“So far, we have 14 athletes registered from across Australia and we are also looking to welcome some athletes from New Zealand.

Jude Perrett took to the pole in 2008 and started competing in 2014, she was also part of the founding committee of the APSF.

“I’ve been to the world championships twice,” she said, “first in 2017 and then again in 2019 in Montreal where four of us represented Australia”. 

“Even though we were disappointed with our score we were very proud to put on the green and gold tracksuit and represent Australia.”

Ms Perrett said they set up the APSF in Australia because they had to travel overseas to qualify for the worlds.

“My doubles partner and I had to travel to Germany to qualify for the world championships in 2017,” she said.

“When we got back to Australia, we decided that we needed to get Australia on board.

“So, we set up the APSF and we are now part of the International Pole Sports Federation.”

Even though pole sports had a stigma, Ms Perrett said there was a big difference between pole sports and pole dancing.

“People are not quite sure what they are going to see when they come to a competition, but they are just blown away when they see the athleticism, the artistry, and the strength and the flexibility of the athletes.”

The IOC has announced it was looking at pole sports as a possible inclusion in the Olympics, which Ms Perrett said was what they were all working towards. 

“At the moment, there are 34 member federations from around the world and the next step is to get pole sports recognised as an official sport in as many of those countries as possible.

“We are currently getting our application together for the Australian Sports Commission and we are hoping to apply this year.”

The Australian Pole Sports Federation’s second national competition will be held on June 27 at the Cairns basketball stadium.

“There will be several parts of the competition being run on the day, including pole sports, hoop sports, and there will also be artistic pole and artistic hoop sports,” Ms Perrett said.

“Everybody is welcome, it’s free entry, and I’m sure they will be blown away by the athletes and the choreography.”

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Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes is coming to the National Museum of Australia




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Australian Sports Commission apologises to AIS athletes after Human Rights Commission report into gymnastics


The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has apologised to athletes who spoke out about their treatment during their time at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

An independent review by the Australian Human Right Commission (AHRC) into gymnastics in Australia found the sport enabled a culture of abuse, predominantly against young women.

A number of women spoke about negative experiences during their time as gymnasts at the AIS, with some detailing allegations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

They also said their complaints were not acted upon by administrators at the AIS.

The ASC offered an apology and support to “former AIS athletes treated inappropriately in the past”.

“We know incidents and practices occurred that are not acceptable. For this, we are truly sorry,” a statement from the ASC board read.

“We admire the courage of people who have come forward to share their stories. We assure you, we are listening and you have been heard. We have begun reaching out personally to athletes to offer our support.”

The ASC board said most of the thousands of athletes who went through the AIS scholarship programs from 1981 to 2012 “will remember their time fondly”.

“Unfortunately, that is not everyone’s experience,” the statement read.

The ASC said it has set up an independent and confidential support service called AIS Be Heard that was available to any former AIS athletes or staff members, which also links with the existing support services.

The statement said the AHRC review was “a painful process” but one that the ASC hoped could bring about meaningful change.

“The ASC is committed to working with our partners in the Australian sporting community to address unacceptable practices of the past, and to ensure they have no place in Australian sport in the future.”

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Covid: Many female athletes ‘may walk away’ after pandemic


Increasing numbers of top female athletes will walk away from their sport due to difficulties during the pandemic, leading figures have warned.

Gymnast Latalia Bevan, 20, and rugby international Angharad de Smet, 24, say Covid has left their careers in the balance.

Sports sociologist Dr Ali Bowes said it had highlighted inequalities in sport.

“There are absolutely concerns women will walk away,” she said.

Wales rugby international de Smet, who has worked on the front line during the pandemic, said she’s been left wondering whether “the love of the game is enough?”

The 24-year-old from Ammanford, who was playing for Wales in the Autumn Internationals and as part of the sevens squad before Covid-19, was “living the life of a professional athlete, without the pay cheque”.

But as Wales began its first lockdown, games and training were cancelled.

Over the last year, she said she’s trained with just one kettlebell, unable to access proper equipment or facilities. Her last game of rugby was 14 months ago.

The physiotherapist technician, who works on an elderly care ward in Swansea, said she has struggled to train after gruelling shifts in hospital.

“You’ve seen things you would hope to never see again in your lifetime, to come home and try and do a gym session… in your tiny kitchen… you think ‘why am I bothering?'”

In 2019, the 24-year-old had been travelling to Worcester to train a couple of times a week after work, arriving home in the early hours.

“Nobody understands how much we give, just the wear and tear on your car, the petrol, putting food on the table, trying to get good food into you to aid recovery is expensive.”

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The Top Fitness Advice for 2021 from World-Class Athletes


When I was young, most of my role models were professional athletes. I marveled over Shaquille O’Neal’s dominance on the basketball court and was constantly in awe watching Ken Griffey Jr. effortlessly swing a baseball bat. Both of those superstars made their challenging craft look so easy.

Although I have yet to haul down 13,000-plus rebounds in the NBA or mash 630 home runs in MLB, I realized that if I studied the daily habits of legendary competitors like Shaq and Junior, while also instilling their productive tendencies into my own path, I could find success in any field that I chose.

The best way to learn from the greats is by speaking with the greats, which is why, in 2019, I spawned the idea of interviewing 16 preeminent performers to find out how they reached the pinnacle of their profession. My intent was to formulate these conversations into a book and inspire a kid out there who was just like me. The project, “Trust the Grind,” which features interviews with stars like Chipper Jones, Jason Kidd, Terrell Owens, Mike Modano, and Georges St-Pierre, can be defined as a “success habit” blueprint for the next generation.

Following the project’s publication in April 2020, I reflected on the vital information that the 16 athletes shared with me and began to adopt their advice in my fitness program. I was always a consistent gym-goer, but since speaking with world-class competitors, I have reached heights in the weight room that I never thought possible.

The following are four themes from my book that I believe are extremely beneficial for anyone who is looking to improve their results in the gym. The year 2020 hasn’t been great to us. The best revenge is to dominate in 2021. Follow this advice and skyrocket your fitness in the new year.

1. Set Fitness Goals—and Set Them High

All 16 of the athletes I interviewed set ambitious goals—and they aim high. I remember speaking with Georges St-Pierre, who, while watching a UFC event as a teen, told his friends, “That’s what I’m gonna do for a living.” The comment led to some chuckling from his peers, but we all know who got the last laugh.

When I was doing research on Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves third baseman who ended up being enshrined in Cooperstown, I came across an interview that he gave when he was only 24 years old. Jones, who, at that point, had only a few years in MLB under his belt, was asked what his season goals were for the upcoming year. The promising star responded by saying he would “hit .320, .330, with 40 homers and 130 or 140 RBIs.” For perspective, only one player in Braves history, the legendary Hank Aaron, had ever finished a season hitting .315 with 45 home runs and 100 RBIs. Two years later, in 1999, Jones hit .319 with 45 home runs and 110 RBIs.

When you have the valor to say your goals out loud, two things happen. First, you inherently gain a better understanding of your aim. The more comfortable you get with your goal, the more confidence you will have. Secondly, you naturally become more accountable, as whomever you told will most likely follow up with you in the near future to see if you have made any progress. An increase in accountability leads to an enhancement in work ethic.

In terms of fitness, there was once a study done on a group of individuals who were looking to cut some weight. After the experiment was over, the research team concluded that the participants who had publicly stated their weight loss goals ended up shedding more pounds than those who kept quiet about their desires.[1]

Identify a target, whether it is to do 50 push-ups in a row, lose 15 pounds, bench press a certain amount of weight, or run a six-minute mile. It’s up to you. But set the intention in your head and have the courage to say it aloud. Heck, if you want to give it even more life, write it down somewhere. Aside from Georges St-Pierre expressing his goals, the legendary mixed martial artist was also a fan of scripting his aims. Ahead of one of his title fights, St-Pierre taped a piece of paper to a bathroom mirror at his training camp facility that read, “On November 4, I will defeat Michael Bisping and become UFC Middleweight Champion.” Each morning, he stared at it when he went in to brush his teeth. You can guess what went down on fight night.

I adopted St-Pierre’s practice and have a sheet of paper that reads, “I will do 30 pull-ups in a row by the end of 2020,” posted on a wall in my bedroom.

Displaying 6-pack

The author, after applying the lessons he learned from the champs to his own fitness routine.

To defend the act of writing down an objective, Gail Matthews, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, gathered up 267 people and divided them into two groups. Following a goal-setting evaluation, she concluded that the contestants who jotted down their desires were 42 percent more likely to bring them to fruition.

2. Map Out a Routine

“At what point in your career did you feel like you took the biggest step forward?” I asked Mike Modano, who has scored more points in the NHL than any other American-born player. The Hall of Famer responded by saying that his play on the ice improved tremendously when he adopted an offseason routine. Modano’s 12-week plan, which was broken down into four-week increments, started with simple stuff on the body, followed by a stretch of active movements. The last third of the routine consisted of a lot of cardio and ice work.

In the months leading up to his bout with B.J. Penn, St-Pierre worked out twice a day, six times a week. To give you a snapshot of his brutal schedule, he did weight training on Mondays, private kickboxing on Tuesdays, and boxing on Wednesdays. Thursdays and Sundays were reserved for wrestling. He wound up defeating Penn and went on to avenge his loss to Matt Hughes to claim the UFC Welterweight Championship.

Without a workout plan, you are essentially moving blindly. It is imperative that you design a fitness agenda that strongly aligns with your goals.

Your routine can be as simple as “Monday is chest day, Tuesday is arms, Wednesday is back/legs, and Thursday is shoulders.” Or, you can go to great lengths and scribble down each exercise, making note of the number of reps you aim to do. If you want to remove the guesswork, simply find the BodyFit plan best suited to your goals.

When I spoke with Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, he told me that purchasing a journal, something he did early in his NBA career, was a major factor in his outstanding play on the court. Aside from jotting down his goals, Kidd documented what was going on in his life when he was performing at a high level—foods he was eating, people he was surrounding himself with, his training regimen at the time, and so forth. When he wasn’t getting the desired results in his profession, he could open up his notes and reflect on the changes he needed to make.

Writing out a fitness plan.

3. Surround Yourself with Winners

Speaking of Jason Kidd, as a high schooler, the San Francisco native was one of the most talked about ballers in the country. During his junior year, Kidd led his team to a state championship, and he was recognized as the best high school basketball player in California. In the summer following this illustrious season, Kidd was blessed with the opportunity to practice with Gary Payton, another Bay Area native, who, at that point, was a budding superstar for the Seattle Supersonics. Kidd told me that during their first session, he was unable to score one basket against Payton and also that Payton talked trash to him throughout the practice.

After his disastrous performance, Kidd went home and cried to his parents. He expressed his frustration and contemplated not going back the next day, but his mother and father weren’t having it. Luckily for Kidd, they taught him that surrounding yourself with individuals who have more experience in the discipline that you wish to excel in will skyrocket your own game.

As the practices with Payton went on, Kidd got better and better. Fast-forward to his professional career, where he sits with Magic Johnson as the only two players in NBA history to finish with at least 15,000 points, 10,000 assists, and 5,000 rebounds. If you watch his Hall of Fame speech on YouTube, you’ll find that one of the first players he thanks is Payton.

I bring this up because I believe that it strongly correlates with potent results in the gym. If you want to get bigger arms, speak with people who have a successful arm workout. Pick their brain to find out exactly how they were able to achieve what you desire to attain. If you’re not fortunate enough to personally know individuals who flourish in the gym, go online to learn what the elite performers are doing. When I was first starting on my fitness journey, I read fitness articles and watched videos to learn the exact methods that the best of the best used. That way, before even picking up a weight, I was schooled on the most efficient exercises, beneficial supplements, and the best foods to fuel my training.

Planks

4. Most Importantly, Grind

At the end of the day, you gotta put in the work. All 16 of the competitors in the project stuck to rigorous training schedules and did whatever it took to accomplish their feats. Wide receiver Terrell Owens told me that when he was in college, he stayed on campus during breaks just to get in extra reps in the gym. During his first few years in the NFL, Owens, who was back at his grandmother’s house during the offseason, told me he would “run from my house to the high school, work out with the high school team while they were doing two-a-days, and then go back and do my own workout.” He went on to become a six-time Pro Bowl selection who ranks third all-time in receiving yards.

If you want to be in the 1 percent, like Owens, you must do what only 1 percent of people are willing to do. One way to make sure you stay focused and driven is by boosting your dopamine levels. Aside from consistent exercise, you can achieve this effectively by meditating, listening to music, getting the proper amount of sleep, and eating foods rich in tyrosine, among other nutrients. We all know when we’re working hard and when we’re slacking. In fitness, as in life, you must hold yourself accountable—and keep grinding.

References

1. Turner-McGrievy, G. M., & Tate, D. F. (2013). Weight loss social support in 140 characters or less: use of an online social network in a remotely delivered weight loss intervention. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 3(3), 287-294.

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Alabama Gov. Ivey signs ban on transgender athletes


Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed legislation restricting transgender students from participating in K-12 sports, making Alabama the latest conservative state to ban transgender girls from playing on female sports teams.

Ivey’s office announced in an email that she had signed the bill that says a public K-12 school “may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team.”

Asked if the governor had a comment on the decision, spokeswoman Gina Maiola said she could confirm the governor signed the bill but did not elaborate.

GEORGIA FUGITIVE CAPTURED IN ALABAMA AFTER 3 YEARS ON THE RUN FOR MURDER OF EX-GIRLFRIEND

Supporters of the bill, HB 391, say transgender girls are born bigger and faster and have an unfair advantage in competition. Opponents argue the bills are rooted in discrimination and fear, and violate the federal law barring sex discrimination in education.

“HB 391 is nothing more than a politically motivated bill designed to discriminate against an already vulnerable population. By signing this legislation, Gov. Ivey is forcefully excluding transgender children. Let’s be clear here: transgender children are children. They deserve the same opportunity to learn valuable skills of teamwork, sportsmanship, and healthy competition with their peers,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement.

The Alabama House voted 74-19 for the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Scott Stadthagen of Hartselle. The Alabama Senate voted 25-5 for the legislation.

“I want to thank Gov. Ivey for her leadership and for protecting the rights of Alabama’s female athletes. Standing up for what is right is not always easy, but it is always the right thing to do,” Stadthagen said Friday.

ALABAMA POLICE OFFICER SHOT DURING ROUTINE TRAFFIC STOP, SUSPECT KILLED

During Senate debate on the bill last week, Republican Sen. Garlan Gudger of Cullman said it is “unfair for biological males to compete and beat females in high school sports.” He said the bill is needed to protect the integrity of female athletic programs.

Across the country, Republican legislators have been hard-pressed to come up with actual instances in which a transgender girl’s participation has caused a problem on a girls sports team. The Associated Press recently reached out to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring such measures around the country as well as the conservative groups supporting them and found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.

Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves last month signed a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing on girls or women’s sports teams. Idaho last year became the first state to pass such a ban, but it faces a legal challenge.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, on Thursday vetoed a bill banning transgender students from girls and women’s school sports. She said the GOP-backed measure is a jobs killer that harms children.

Critics of such bills are worried that the measures could cost states from hosting sporting events. Alabama Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said last week that the bill will give the state a “black eye” as it tries to recruit industries and sporting events. “We are spending too much time on craziness like this,” Singleton said.

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As similar bills crop up across the county, the NCAA, which regulates college athletics in the U.S., expressed support for transgender athletes and warned that championships will only be held in locations “free of discrimination.”

“We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants,” the NCAA statement read.

The NCAA currently requires transgender women to get drug treatment to lower their testosterone levels before they can compete in women’s sports.

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New sports academy in Cairns is turning athletes pro in first year


Mya Cozzoul’s dream of becoming a professional football player has taken a big step forward in recent months.

“I’d love to be listed with Gold Coast Suns or hopefully get drafted, it’s so much closer to home,” Mya said.

“I’ve only come into the sport recently, but I’ve thrived, this program gives young people like me an opportunity to excel.”

Mya is a student, and one of 45 aspiring athletes taking part in TAFE Queensland’s new Academy of Sport in Cairns.

At the academy, a tailored sporting program is created for each participant, who also take up a TAFE course of their choosing.

At 17 years of age, Mya plays for the Cairns City Lions women’s team and the club’s junior team, while studying allied health at TAFE.

“AFL is a high intensity, fast-thinking sport with a lot of adrenalin, and I can be aggressive,” she said

“Once I heard about the program, I was super excited and my future was a lot more achievable”.

Former AFLW Gold Coast Suns player, Dr Tiarna Ernst, also grew up in Far North Queensland.(

Supplied: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos

)

For Mya, it’s the big break she’s been waiting for, bridging the gap between local footy and major league.

“For someone who’s from a regional place who hasn’t seen much of the professional side of the sport, it’s great,” she said.

“They’ve just introduced an Indigenous round for women, which they didn’t have in previous years.

“So, I think it’s definitely progressing in Cairns and on an Australian level.”

The Gold Coast Suns joined the AFLW in 2020.
The Gold Coast Suns joined the AFLW in 2020.(

Supplied: AFLW

)

Creating pathways to the elite level

Cairns Academy of Sport is partnered with AFL Cairns, Northern Pride, Cairns Netball and FNQ Swimming.

Of the 45 athletes, two young women made it to the Gold Coast Suns Academy,  one young man qualified for Olympic trials and another was selected to play for the Northern Pride.

“It’s been quite revolutionary as far as changing pathways for young athletes finishing high school,” TAFE Queensland Project Manager Jesse O’Hara said.

“Students have the opportunity to train in a full-time environment while undertaking a vocational qualification.

“One of our young Northern Pride athletes wasn’t on the Northern Pride system at all.

“There’s no way of knowing that kid would have got an opportunity playing for the Northern Pride had this academy never been started.”

Mr O’Hara said that he has already entered into agreements with new sporting partners for next year’s program.

Townsville is the next location the program is planned to be rolled out.

“They’re focussed on the development of me as a person, not just as a footy player,” Mya said.

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Athletes need more say in major issues, not boycotts, says Rapinoe



FILE PHOTO: Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. celebrates scoring their first goal during the France v United States game during the Women’s World Cup Quarter Final at Parc des Princes, Paris, France June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

March 19, 2021

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) – Protests not boycotts are the way to challenge China on human rights, letting athletes use their platforms to highlight issues hanging over the 2022 Beijing Olympics, according to U.S. women’s soccer international Megan Rapinoe.

Although it is COVID-19 not a boycott that has put this summer’s Tokyo Games under threat, Rapinoe is rarely shy about sharing her thoughts be it on pandemics or politics.

“I don’t think athletes should be pawns,” Rapinoe told Reuters in a Zoom interview. “It is always a balance between boycotting and using the event as an opportunity to continue to speak truth to power and protest in some sort of way.

“You can you use the platform to push not only countries but organising bodies and governing bodies to be much more progressive than they have been in the past.”

As the most high-profile member of the U.S. squad heading to Japan aiming to reclaim the gold medal they lost at the 2016 Rio Olympics, few athletes have made better use of their platform than Rapinoe, who has brought attention to issues from social injustice to helping the push to get Americans vaccinated.

On Wednesday Rapinoe and her partner WNBA star Sue Bird were welcoming people and checking for symptoms at a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Seattle.

Next Wednesday the 2019 FIFA women’s player of the year will be in Washington, D.C., appearing before Congress as part of “Equal Pay Day” to examine the economic harm caused by longstanding gender inequalities.

Even when it comes to endorsements, like one of her newest with Schmidt’s deodorant, Rapinoe links products to her social causes, in this case the dismantling of gender norms.

As a gay athlete Rapinoe has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and verbally sparred with former U.S. President Donald Trump.

RACIAL INJUSTICE

She was among the first to take a knee during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to protest against racial injustice and has stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.

But it is the women’s national team’s battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay with the men that has been Rapinoe’s main off-field focus.

Last year the two sides settled an unequal working condition claim but the team is appealing an earlier ruling on wage discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act.

Rapinoe insists that off-field feuds do not distract her or the team from their one goal — returning home from Tokyo with gold.

“That’s what has been so special about this team is being able to fight for equality while fighting for a World Cup and use our platform and use our success on the field to amplify our demand for equality and the respect we deserve,” she said.

“I don’t pull on the jersey for the federation or the people that are discriminating against me, I put in on for myself, I put it on for all the people that are being discriminated against.”

Like most athletes Rapinoe felt the stress of a year that included playing in bubbles with no fans and wondering if there would be a Tokyo Olympics.

Now as the world starts to emerge from the pandemic, the 35-year-old is optimistic the Games will go ahead.

“It is starting to have that kind of buzz,” said Rapinoe. “I think it would be a really amazing and kind of an uplifting event to bring the sports world back together for the first time in a long time and do something as special as the Olympics.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)



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Making Their Mark, Amazon’s AFL documentary, offers genuine insight into the faults and fears of modern professional athletes


The first thing we learn is that AFL players and coaches like to say f***. A lot.

It won’t take you long into the first episode of Amazon’s new seven-part fly-on-the-wall AFL documentary, titled Making Their Mark, to fill up your daily quota of f-bombs.

It’s a common trait of this booming genre of sports doco, partially because producers identify that some colourful language is an easy way to sell the uncensored, gritty vibe they are looking for, and partially just because people at footy clubs swear a bit.

But this series, unlike many of its heavily stage-managed and conspicuously dramatised contemporaries, succeeds in going beyond that surface level ruggedness. There is genuine insight to be taken from Making Their Mark.

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The glimpses inside the day-to-day life of a professional football club are alluring, and there’s no doubt some of the show’s best scenes are set inside team meetings and half-time rallies, but what quickly becomes clear is that for these young men and their families, there is more to the game than the game itself.

Making Their Mark gets its depth from the talent it follows. It’s a credit to the series’ creators that each of its subjects is different from the other, but all are facing a kind of shared adversity through their own individual lenses.

If you’ve read anything about Making Their Mark to this point, it has likely been about GWS captain Stephen Coniglio, one of the four players the series followed throughout the 2020 season along with Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew and Richmond leaders Damien Hardwick, Peggy O’Neal and Brendan Gale.

Coniglio’s story is one of a man thrust into leadership before his time, one still struggling to find himself in a role that demands complete self-assuredness and honesty. Coniglio spends the season fighting against the rising tide of pressure before he breaks and is unceremoniously dropped from the team by coach Leon Cameron.

Stephen Coniglio was dropped by GWS midway through the 2020 season.(

Supplied: Amazon Prime

)

Coniglio is the youngest of the show’s focal points, and his fall hits the hardest. At 26 years old during the 2020 season, it quickly becomes clear he lacks the support network at the club to flourish as a rookie leader, and his and the team’s form suffers for it.

But it’s also worth noting Coniglio’s response to the news of his omission. He is heartbroken, obviously, and speaks honestly about feelings of embarrassment and of having let the team down. But the only time he cries on camera after being dropped is when a producer informs him teammate and friend Heath Shaw had spoken to Cameron in support of Coniglio, standing up for the captain to the coach.

It’s a touching and telling moment, but it’s also the clearest demonstration of Making Their Mark’s strongest theme — connection.

It’s what Coniglio was trying to achieve with his misguided Leap of Faith ritual at the start of the season. It’s why Dew spent 18 hours on an exercise bike alongside injured rookie Matt Rowell as they rode up a virtual Mt Everest. It’s what the West Coast Eagles’ prayer group was trying to cultivate in the moments before each game.

The Sloanes and ‘positive grieving’

Rory Sloane, who is often held up in the series as the antitheses of Coniglio — an experienced, confident leader of men whose character and tenacity leads a young team to gradual improvement — joins his wife Belinda in speaking honestly about their son Leo, who was stillborn in 2018.

The Sloanes have been open about their loss in the past, but Rory’s reflection on how he learned to “grieve in a positive way” is a true highlight of the series.

Rory Sloane holds his son, who is wearing an Adelaide jersey, while speaking to his wife Belinda
Rory and Belinda Sloane, here with son Sonny, spoke openly about their stillborn son Leo.(

Supplied: Amazon Prime

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Rory and Belinda are still connected to Leo, in ways both tangible and not, and it’s impossible to not be inspired listening to them speak about turning their tragedy into hope and eventually light. On a much smaller scale, it’s the same ethos Rory brings through the doors at Adelaide every day, and it’s why he’s such an accomplished leader and impressive person. 

Making Their Mark also suggests pretty strongly that sense of connection is what led Richmond to the 2020 premiership.

Throughout the Tigers’ dynasty, the club’s camaraderie and togetherness has often been held up as a factor as important to its success as talent and tactics. This series gives us the clearest look yet at what that actually means.

It’s an incomplete picture, granted, but the pieces are still there. It starts at training, where Hardwick is seen forcefully instructing his players to smile more, and extends to mid-week team meetings, where the question-and-answer between coach and players flows far more naturally than at any other club the show portrays.

Then it manifests on game day, where the extent of Hardwick’s instructions rarely go beyond “play a Richmond style of game” and “do it for the man in that jumper, and in the jumper beside you”. Making Their Mark is rarely concerned with the tactical fluctuations that make teams great: here, it’s all about the people and the bond they share.

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Facing footy without family

Carlton’s Eddie Betts becomes an interesting case study within that. Here’s a player of whom so much is expected, on the field but especially off it, as a regular victim of and tireless warrior against racism.

At the end of the series, after a disappointing year of injuries and fluctuating form, Betts crystallises his internal dilemmas in his exit meeting with Carlton’s coaches. He admits to suffering a crisis of confidence, of trying to be too much for too many people and of not taking the time to be open and honest about himself and his own personal battles.

Tellingly, he says the only person he feels he can open up to is his wife. Is it any surprise that Betts’s form suffered during the months he was stuck in a Gold Coast hub, miles away from his family, forced to face his many obstacles alone?

The early episodes show Betts as lively as we would expect, playing with his kids and stressing as his young daughter climbs higher on a piece of playground equipment than self-confessed “Safety Dad” feels comfortable with. The Betts at the end of the series, who needs a moment to compose himself in a hallway before fronting up to coach David Teague, feels like a completely different person.

Eddie Betts sits on the ground and hugs three of his small children. Everyone is very happy
Eddie Betts struggled while away from his family in 2020.(

Supplied: Amazon Prime

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It’s not hard to imagine just how many players suffered in the same way in 2020, and while the sections that centre on the Eagles and Nic Naitanui don’t dwell on the family aspect too much — by way of Naitanui being one of the few senior Eagles not to be married with children — it’s the subtext of the team’s trials and tribulations in their own Gold Coast hub.

As West Coast bowed out of finals early and none of the other featured teams even qualified, the last episode of the series becomes a celebration of Richmond, but it’s still those same themes of unity and love and care that dominate.

Sure, Dustin Martin is a freak of nature, but it’s the shots of him, Hardwick and Trent Cotchin joking on the Gabba the day before the grand final that resonate more than watching those four incredible goals yet again.

Above all, Making Their Mark is about relationships. Between friends, family, bosses, colleagues and contemporaries. How they can inspire and how they can cripple, but how they are more essential in modern sport and life than ever.

We already knew that footy players swear. The biggest thing we learned from this documentary is that their most basic need is the same as ours — love.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out this news release about Aussie Rules news titled “Making Their Mark, Amazon’s AFL documentary, offers genuine insight into the faults and fears of modern professional athletes”. This post was shared by MyLocalPages as part of our Australian news services.

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